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Inheritance: The Lost History of Mary Davies

A Story of Property, Marriage and Madness

Published by Oneworld Publications
Distributed by Simon & Schuster

‘Hollis expertly weaves together the human tragedy and high politics behind the explosion of one of the world’s greatest cities.’ Dan Snow

The reclaimed history of a woman whose tragic life tells a story of madness, forced marriages and how the super-rich came to own London

In June 1701, a young widow wakes up in a hotel room in Paris and finds a man in her bed. Within hours they are married. Yet three weeks later, the bride flees to London and swears that she had never agreed to the wedding. So begins one of the most intriguing stories of madness, tragic passion and the curse of inheritance.

Inheritance charts the forgotten life of Mary Davies, born in London during the Great Plague of 1665, and the fate of the land that she inherited as a baby. This estate would determine the course of a tragic life. Hollis restores this history of child brides, mad heiresses, religious controversy and shady dealing. The drama culminated in a court case that determined not just the state of Mary’s legacy but the future of London itself. Today, Mary’s inheritance is some of the most valuable real estate in the world.

  • Publisher: Oneworld Publications (May 6, 2021)
  • Length: 304 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781786079961

‘An enjoyable romp through the social history of a century from the Great Fire and the rebuilding of London to the Enlightenment, taking in discourses on midwifery, madness, child-rearing, burial practices, the birth and development of the London property market and the dangers of being a woman.’

– The Times

‘Wonderful… Leo Hollis knows the expanding city like the back of his hand, and brings a forensic eye and a deep empathy to the mystery at the heart of Mary Davies’s tragic life… Inheritance is a consistently enthralling read.’

– Helen Castor, author of Joan of Arc

‘Genuinely gripping. Hollis tells a good tale… Inheritance is also a book about property… his knowledge shows here in confident and vivid descriptions of the capital at the start of the 18th century. But he comes at his subject from a novel angle.’

– Adrian Tinniswood, Literary Review

‘A fascinating insight into a tragic backwater of London’s history, yet from which one of its most magnificent estates emerged…’

– Simon Jenkins, author of A Short History of London

‘Leo Hollis has written a thorough and readable account of the Mary Davies saga, at times almost as a thriller, set in the glamour of Restoration London. We dodge from the plague and the Glorious Revolution into matrimonial rights, lunacy acts and 99-year leases. The life of this otherwise inconsequential woman is meticulously recorded, and all for the incubus of an inheritance which she barely seemed to comprehend.’

– Oldie

‘Hollis expertly weaves together the human tragedy and high politics behind the explosion of one of the world’s greatest cities. His scholarship and storytelling make the seventeenth century seem so familiar.’

– Dan Snow, Death or Victory: The Battle for Quebec and the Birth of Empire

‘Leo Hollis combines meticulous research with his trademark style once again in this perceptive and humane book on one of modern London’s most significant origin stories.’

– Lucy Inglis, author of Georgian London: Into the Streets

'Identifying an authentic seventeenth-century mystery, Leo Hollis uses the form of the classic detective story to deliver a fast-moving and forensic account of the birth and development of the London property market. Here is a valuable addition to the literature of the city in another period of cancerous growth.'

– Iain Sinclair, author of The Last London

‘The story of an heiress whose patrimony lies at the root of a modern accumulation of a vast landed fortune, the Grosvenor Estate of the Dukes of Westminster… brilliant.’

– Ian Bostridge, FT

‘A tale of lies, coercion and opium-laced strawberries… compelling.’

– BBC History

‘An intriguing story of scandal, betrayal, law courts and corruption. It’s a fascinating read.’

– Who Do You Think You Are Magazine